Tsunoda on Ricciardo’s return, social media and more · F1 · RaceFans

You might not have heard of the ‘Lombard effect’ before – but you’ve almost definitely experienced it.

Have you ever been listening to audio with a pair of headphones on or earphones in, had someone say something to you, then shouted your response back at them? Of course you have. And that’s why you have something in common with Yuki Tsunoda.

The third-year AlphaTauri driver has become infamous for his… ‘passionate’ messages over team radio. Not just for the volume of his feedback to race engineer Mattia Spini, but a lot of the un-broadcastable language he uses.

Thankfully, Tsunoda is able to keep his voice at a respectable volume when out of the cockpit. But it’s amusing that when RaceFans joins the 23-year-old in the paddock for a sit down chat, he’s the one who brings up his struggles with the Lombard effect unprompted…

“Sometimes, my radio is quite shouty,” he admits. “It’s not because I’m angry. I’m not just really used to, at least not yet, talking on the radio while I’m driving.

“You can’t hear much what you’re saying. I feel like I have to speak loud to reach the radio, but the radio’s literally here. So I always forget this. You can’t even you speak like this, quietly, the engineers can hear it. So those things and like still very communication how I behave – especially in bad moments, bad times, I tend to always be really aggressive and excited.”

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Losail International Circuit, 2023
Tsunoda will race for a fourth season in 2024

Over his first three seasons in Formula 1, Tsunoda has had his fair share of ‘bad times’. Some of them he had little excuse for, such as crashing at the pit lane exit during his first visit to Montreal in 2022 or taking out team mate Pierre Gasly while in the points the very next round at Silverstone. But Japan’s sole representative on the F1 grid has also been the victim of circumstances, robbing him of results that could have changed the narrative around him within the paddock and in the consciousness of the sport’s fans.

Nonetheless, Tsunoda has achieved a rare honour within the Red Bull driver ecosystem and secured a fourth consecutive season at the world champions’ junior stable. For 2024, Tsunoda will once again bring his wild driving style and even wilder radio manner to the grid alongside veteran Daniel Ricciardo.

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Speaking with Tsunoda, he’s under no illusion about the expectations upon him. But after his impressive rise through the ranks into the highest level of motorsport while barely out of his teens, Tsunoda seems almost grateful for the various trials and tribulations he’s faced over his formative years in Formula 1.

“I think I struggled, obviously,” he says when asked how he looks back over his opening seasons.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Imola, 2021
Tsunoda faced challenges in his rookie season

“For the performances [on track], it’s a different story, to be honest. But other than that, I think still those moments I struggled a lot have made me two steps a more better driver. I think anyway, that kind of struggle will happen in the future.”

His debut year in 2021 felt like a true rookie season in the traditional sense, where whenever a yellow flag flashed up on the timing screens, your best bet was that it would be either due to a certain Haas driver or Tsunoda himself. But rather than his struggles wrecking him mentally, Tsunoda says the damage to his ego likely helped him over the long run.

“It actually was good to experience that at the beginning of season, so from there I know how to like recover, how to build my confidence and everything,” he explains.

“It also let me struggle. I didn’t struggle that much in my whole career. I’d driven like 16 years before then and I didn’t have anything like that. So it probably was a good thing to break my confidence and to rebuild from the base, to build a completely new, strong confidence in myself as a driver.”

Dealing with failure and learning from it is hard enough to do in the intense world of Formula 1, but even more so when a member of the Red Bull machine. Tsunoda frankly admits that it was difficult for him over those early seasons – especially when every mistake he made led to criticism seemingly from everywhere.

“It’s not always easy, it takes a lot of races,” he says. “Obviously people not saying good things to me, social media was a new thing – those things. But in this kind of sports environment, any or in fact most sports, will naturally come with that. So I think it was good. I mean, better than having that kind of things in the future. So I’m happy with it.”

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But while it’s natural to assume that an emotionally expressive young sportsperson would be tempted to keep themselves away from the mental black hole that is modern day social media, it’s surprising to learn that he looks “quite a lot” at what people have to say about him online.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Suzuka, 2023
His home race awarded him two points for ninth

“Yeah, sometimes – in Japanese,” he clarifies. “I feel sometimes funny because I don’t like how Japanese people say things in social media. I like the European people more, like how they say their comments.

“Japanese people, they try to explain or like give extra advice to me – it’s like, ‘guys…’. It makes me laugh sometimes. I always see something that makes me frustrated. At the same time, I don’t hear many voices from Japan – you can see how people react to me, but not in Japan. So it’s good to know.

“But at the same time I don’t really listen to the social media people. Sometimes – like it depends on the situation – but it doesn’t make sense because either way, if I perform well, they suddenly change through 180 degrees. And if I have a bad moment, they again turn 180 degrees and it goes in the other direction. It’s a lot of people, but anyway it doesn’t make much difference.”

One person whose views he does care about is his team mate for the rest of the 2023 season and next year, Ricciardo. Ten years his senior and a multiple grand prix winner for two different teams, Ricciardo is largely expected to be the leading light for AlphaTauri.

For Tsunoda, it will be a completely different dynamic from the start of this year with ousted rookie Nyck de Vries and the last five rounds alongside Red Bull junior, and Tsunoda’s former neighbour, Liam Lawson. But Tsunoda insists his own stature within the team has grown since he was racing alongside the more experienced Pierre Gasly over his first two years.

“It is different,” Tsunoda says of his two weekends of racing with Ricciardo so far.

“Probably when I was with Pierre also there, how I was in the team, how I got treated from the team is a little bit different than now. I was a complete rookie, a lot of things to learn. With Pierre I knew that I kind of had to improve a lot in a lot of places. He was kind of a good example for a rookie. For me it was good because his attitude, how he communicated with the team, gave me an idea of how to be in Formula 1, so that’s good.

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“With Daniel, I’ve definitely learned little different things. Especially how he behaves with the team. Even in the moments that don’t go well, how he treats the team, what he says on the radio, those things gives them more confidence. More happiness – ‘happiness’ is a little different, but it changes the atmosphere.”

Tsunoda will race alongside Ricciardo in 2024

Heading into next season, Tsunoda says he is determined to learn as much as possible from Ricciardo to guide his own growth as a driver. Not just from studying the Western Australian’s famously laid-back nature, but making sure he can pick up on the areas where Ricciardo isn’t as strong as him too.

“He’s always calm on the radio, which is probably opposite of me!,” he laughs. “Those things I have learned a lot.

“That kind of confidence he has, that natural confidence, I can tell is quite big. The atmosphere, comparing Pierre and Daniel, is quite similar. Because both are people who like to enjoy themselves. But I will say still they have differences between them. Obviously there’s the goodness of Daniel. I would say I learn a lot of things from him. His goodness, obviously from the outside, and his ‘badness’ as well. But also I’m learning different things from Daniel from that goodness of him.”

Listening to Tsunoda speak about his aims as a driver, it’s hard not to be struck not just by how introspective and self-aware he is, but how eager he seems to be to address those mental and even social factors that can be just as critical to success as raw talent behind the wheel. Ask many drivers about what they want to improve in themselves and you’ll hear a grab-bag of similar responses about speed, consistency or even their adaptability behind the wheel. But Tsunoda seems determined to become a better driver through self-discipline – and that starts with dialling down the decibels over the airwaves.

“I want to improve on the radio,” he states, flatly. “How I behave with the team in general will be key and that’s what I want to focus on, rather than scoring points whatever.

“Step-by-step, I want to improve on my limitations. That’s what I’m focussed on, nothing other than that.”

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